Happy Memorial Day to everyone, and thanks to all of the military men and women who have sacrificed so much for our nation.
Just one week remains before the draft, and we'll overwhelm you with preview coverage in the next seven days, including our new Top 500 Prospects list (with scouting reports), our usual in-depth state-by-state lists, a draft chat and Draft Tracker on Wednesday and at least two more first-round projections.
Because the draft starts on a Monday, we'll push next week's edition of Ask BA to Wednesday. That will allow me to answer your questions about what happens in the first few rounds. This week, we'll focus on possible draft strategies.
The new draft rules, which give each team specific bonus pools in the first 10 rounds and mandate severe penalties for teams that exceed them (loss of a first-round pick for a 5 percent overage to the loss of two first-rounders for a 15 percent overage), don't have any obvious loopholes. Teams can shift money around within their pools, but there's no easy way to create extra cash.
If a club doesn't sign a choice in the first 10 rounds, the value of his pick disappears from its pool. So if a team wants to pay one player more than his pick value, it has to save money elsewhere. I think we'll see that happen in one of two ways.
In the early rounds, a club can take a player it likes more than anyone else and push him up its draft board. Think of some of the recent surprise first-rounders, such as Ben Revere (Twins, 2007), Hayden Simpson (Cubs, 2010) or Cito Culver (Yankees, 2010). More of those types of choices are bound to happen in the first couple of rounds, where a team is strongly convicted on a player and can take a discount as well. At the top of the draft, teams are more likely to take the cheaper guy first and the overpay guy second, rather than the other way around.
The other avenue to freeing up some cash is what Tom suggests, which is to take college seniors who have little leverage and pay them below their pick value. That could happen by taking a quality senior such as Rice righthander Matthew Reckling, pushing him into the third round and paying him in the low six figures. Teams also could take a garden-variety senior who typically will sign for $5,000, choose him in the first 10 rounds and save that way.
I believe most of the top talents in this draft will go in the first 50 picks, because otherwise it will be tough to pay them. Most of the second-tier high school players who are willing to sign for $500,000 to $750,000 will go in the second and third rounds, for the same reason. After that, I envision a lot of college and junior college players in rounds 4-10.
Teams are prohibited from doing anything to circumvent the new draft rules, and a guaranteed September callup would qualify. But as long as there's nothing in writing, it would be hard to prove if a big league promotion were a prearranged deal. And it has happened in the past, with the Giants and 2008 supplemental first-round pick Conor Gillaspie one recent example.
But a September callup won't come close to what a major league contract could do under the previous rules. A callup gives a player about one-sixth of the major league minimum salary (roughly $80,000) and the side benefits that come with a spot on the 40-man roster. A big league deal allowed a team to give much more money to a player and to spread it out over several years.
In 2011, the Mariners gave No. 2 overall choice Danny Hultzen a $6.35 million bonus and an additional $2.15 million in guarantees as part of a major league contract. Trevor Bauer (No. 3, Diamondbacks) got an extra $1.05 million, Dylan Bundy (No. 4, Orioles) landed $2.25 million, Anthony Rendon (No. 6, Nationals) received $1.2 million and Matt Purke (third round, Nationals) added $1.4 million. None of them got September callups, but all of them immediately joined 40-man rosters.
I'd bet you'd see a number of teams get around the bonus pools by guaranteeing players salaries in major league contracts if that were permissible. It's such an obvious maneuver that MLB closed that possibility in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
I doubt you'll see a team take a player in the first round with the intention of not signing him. The tenure of general managers and scouting directors is too short, especially with a club picking at the top of the draft, and teams want to sign talented players today rather than tomorrow. There's also no guarantee that a pick the following year will be significantly better.
The Diamondbacks took Loux in part because he agreed to a below-market $2 million bonus, then signed Bradley for $5 million. If Arizona had kept the same price point for that choice last year, it wouldn't have gotten Bradley.
The only time I can remember a team purposely punting with its first-rounder came when the Reds selected Jeremy Sowers 20th overall in 2001. Sowers was dead-set on attending Vanderbilt and had an asking price in the neighborhood of $3 million. Cincinnati never offered him half of that while trying to solve a budget bonus crisis.
The Reds' amateur budget had been thin since they spent $2.1 million to purchase outfielder Alejandro Diaz from Japan's Hiroshima Toyo Carp in March 1999. They signed Ty Howington, their 1999 first-rounder, with $1.75 million borrowed from their 2000 budget. In 2000, Cincinnati gave first-rounder David Espinosa and second-rounder Dane Sardinha big league deals with no bonuses and paid sandwich pick Dustin Mosely with $937,000 from its 2001 budget. By not signing Sowers, the Reds finally stopped borrowing money from their future.